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School Supplies for Adult Life

School Supplies for Adult Life - It's Time to Revisit Our Childhood

Just like school supplies help children in their scholastic pursuits, adults can buy books that will help them learn how to take control of their lives and achieve their dreams.
MissionSelf Staff
By: Ira Allen

If there is a topic custom-designed to flip most grown-up people's eyelids to the off position, it must be 'school supplies'. As a kid, though, preparing for school could be sort of fun. Even if you didn't have much money, or your parents were fanatically thrifty like mine, there was a certain joy to be had from picking out notepads or deciding on an eraser. The blue or the yellow? The pad with dinosaurs and big spaces between the lines or the 'college-ruled' (whatever that meant) with the bland, severe image on the front? For many adults, this picture has shifted a little.

How many people do you know who, on the eve of their first day at a new job, are out filling a shopping basket with pens and pencils? Okay, so most companies provide writing implements, but perhaps it's also true that, as Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead put it, "The thrill is gone." But why?

As kids, school supplies are pretty much our only way of asserting some sort of authority over what is otherwise, by and large, a forced routine. You don't tell your parents or the school board where you'd like to go to first grade or what you'd like to learn in fifth grade. Your input is not requested on what time school should start in the morning and when it should end at night. And nobody cares all that much how you feel about having to do homework.

It's true, of course, that much of this resonates uncomfortably for adults in the workforce, but when you're a kid, it's different. You don't have the myth of the American Dream yet. The reason why you're working hasn't become entirely clear.

As adults, we know why we work. We work to put food on the table. We work to give our kids the things we never had. We work to be upwardly mobile. We work to buy enormous televisions. We work to survive, and, even more so, we work to be able to play. The questionable value of some of our dreams aside (is the SUV really worth the overtime?), the point is that we're working for a reason. We're not just working because somebody tells us we have to―even if that is more or less what we're actually doing.

And so we don't feel the need to exercise control over our work lives in the same way that children do over school. For them, time spent in school is time that could be spent playing. For us, time spent playing is a pleasure afforded by our time at work―and a pleasure that gives us the energy to go back in and work some more. This is a part of why French sociologist Jean Baudrillard suggested that the idea of leisure time is a myth. But what on Earth does all this have to do with school supplies?

It's simple. We really aren't that far off from children. Most of us, most of the time, pretty much do have to do the jobs in front of us. And if we didn't do those, we'd be doing something pretty similar, if we were lucky enough to get a new job. Ask Wells Crandall, one New Yorker who's documenting his search for a job in the big, cold Apple.

So maybe it's time we started taking control of our lives again in little ways―just like kids do. Maybe instead of working overtime for the big-screen television that will help us relax enough to work more, we should pay more attention to the school supplies, to the little things we bring to our jobs, to our own small arenas of authority.

But we aren't children exactly, and so we can do this in a more grown-up way. Instead of picking notepads and pencil erasers, we should be picking the books that will shape our attitudes while we are at work. Books that make us question who we are and what we're doing here ... books that might even help us make real changes.

I know, I know; books can't do all that. But are you sure about that? Look at the Bible and the Koran. They are a couple of books that have shaped people's attitudes. Or how about Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack. That definitely had an effect on how people saw the world way back when, and some of the sayings are still with us. "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, happy and wise".

So maybe it's time to pick out a good book, like Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities or Robert Dahl's How Democratic Is the American Constitution? Books like these, which challenge our established beliefs (nation-states are natural; the American Constitution is a highly democratic document) offer us the chance to see the world in a different light. And when we see the world differently, we often begin to see ourselves differently, and actually become different people.

To buy the books I've mentioned―or just about any others―online, check out Abebooks, an association of independent booksellers around the country and the world. Be a global consumer AND support local businesses. And buy the kind of school supplies you need to take control of your adult life!
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